Portrait of Shun'oku Myōha

Artist: Unidentified Artist Japanese

Period: Nanbokuchō period (1336–92)

Date: ca. 1383

Culture: Japan

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk

Dimensions: Image: 45 5/8 × 20 1/2 in. (115.9 × 52.1 cm)
Overall: 79 × 29 3/4 in. (200.7 × 75.6 cm)
Overall with knobs: 79 × 31 5/8 in. (200.7 × 80.3 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of Sylvan Barnet and William Burto, 2007

Accession Number: 2007.329


The Zen priest Shun’oku Myōha (1311–1388) is shown seated cross-legged in a red lacquer chair with his shoes placed on a footrest. Shun’oku’s illustrious monastic career included top administrative positions, abbotships at major monasteries, and close relationships with the first and third Ashikaga shoguns. Zen portraits of this type, called chinsō, were disseminated among followers and served a ritual function in funerals and memorial services. The bamboo staff signifies authority, and Shun’oku’s decorative robes and kesa (monk’s vestment) are important signs of rank. Shun’oku inscribed his portrait with a poem:

There are no eyes atop the head.
There are eyebrows below the chin.
This is everything; this is nothing.
I also could not become a phoenix.
Inscribed by Myōha of Tenryū[ji] for [?] at Muryōjuin
—trans. Anne Nishimura Morse and Samuel Morse